TIMSS 2010/11: Year 5 Students' Mathematics Achievement

Publication Details

This report describes the mathematics achievement of Year 5 students in TIMSS 2010/11. Analyses of achievement by sub-groupings (such as gender and ethnicity) and background information are also presented and comparisons are made with New Zealand across cycles and also with other countries. Characteristics of teachers, including their preparedness to teach mathematics, teaching activities that took place within mathematics lessons, resources, and teacher attitudes and perceptions, as well as school management and climate, are also explored.

Author(s): Robyn Caygill, Sarah Kirkham and Nicola Marshall, Research Division, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: July 2013

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Key Findings

Achievement in an international context

  • New Zealand Year 5 students had relatively low mathematics achievement when compared with other participating countries, lower than 29 countries, similar to 4, and higher than 16 countries.
  • Although not different from 2006/07, New Zealand Year 5 students in 2010/11 had significantly lower mathematics achievement on average than in 2002/03. However, the mean mathematics achievement in 2010/11 is still significantly higher than the first cycle of TIMSS in 1994/95.
  • In the international context, the range of achievement within New Zealand was moderate. This is in contrast to the 15-year-old students assessed in PISA where New Zealand has one of the widest ranges of achievement.
  • There was a relatively high proportion of very low achievers (students who did not reach the low benchmark) in this cycle of TIMSS compared with countries with similar proportions of advanced achievers.
  • Instructional hours in mathematics in New Zealand middle primary classrooms were relatively high compared with many countries but a lot lower than Australia and Northern Ireland.
  • The decrease in mean mathematics achievement among New Zealand students seems to be mainly due to a decrease in achievement on questions about statistics, and geometry and measurement. The area of statistics (called ‘data display’ in TIMSS) remains the area of greatest strength for New Zealand students.
  • In terms of the cognitive skills required to solve mathematics problems, there was a significant decrease in mean achievement on questions requiring reasoning. However, reasoning and applying remained a strength compared with knowing.

Equity in the New Zealand system

  • Average mathematics achievement is the same for Year 5 girls and boys but there is a wider range of achievement among boys than among girls.
  • There are advanced achievers and very low achievers in all ethnic groupings. However, there were proportionately more Pākehā/European and Asian advanced achievers compared with the Pasifika and Māori ethnic groupings. There were also more very low achievers among Pasifika and Māori groupings than among Pākehā/European and Asian groupings.
  • Pasifika students had higher mean achievement, on average, in 2010/11 than in 2006/07.
  • Regardless of the measure used to assess socio-economic status (SES), students with lower SES had lower achievement than students with higher SES. In particular, on an international measure of the SES of the school attended, students in schools with a greater concentration of affluent students had higher achievement than students in schools with a greater concentration of disadvantaged students. On this measure New Zealand had one of the highest differences in achievement between these two groups.

Student attitudes

  • New Zealand middle primary students were generally positive about learning mathematics. Students who were more positive about learning mathematics had, on average, higher achievement than those who were more negative. The self-confidence of students had a stronger relationship with mathematics achievement than how much they like learning mathematics.
  • Fewer New Zealand middle primary students were confident in their ability to do mathematics compared with many other countries.
  • Year 5 boys reported liking mathematics more and were more confident in mathematics than girls in New Zealand, and both these factors had a stronger relationship with achievement for boys than for girls.
  • A greater proportion of Pasifika and Asian students reported liking mathematics than Māori or Pākehā/European students. Asian students were more likely to report high levels of confidence in learning mathematics than students from the other ethnic groupings. Pākehā/European students expressed lower levels of confidence in learning mathematics compared to Māori, Pasifika and Asian students.


  • Fewer New Zealand middle primary teachers felt well prepared to teach topics in mathematics compared with their peers in other countries and fewer expressed high levels of confidence in their ability to teach mathematics.
  • New Zealand teachers tended to use whole class teaching and require memorisation of facts less frequently than their peers in other countries. In contrast they appeared to use group work more frequently (students working independently from the teacher while the teacher was occupied with other tasks).
  • New Zealand classrooms were more likely to have computers available for instructional use compared with other countries and these were more likely to be used regularly for mathematics instruction and for looking up ideas and information than they were in other countries.

School climate for learning

  • Year 5 students generally perceived their school to be a good place to be. More than eight out of ten students agreed that they liked being at school and felt safe there. A higher proportion of girls than boys were positive about school and Pasifika and Asian students were the most positive of the ethnic groupings.
  • Teachers and principals were generally very positive about their school climate for learning, including having a safe environment, knowledgeable staff, supportive parents, and well-behaved students. However, principals tended to be slightly less positive about the teaching staff and more positive about parental support than the teachers.
  • Parents were very positive about their children’s schools, although a number of the parents who responded also indicated that they would like to be better included in and informed about their child’s education.
  • Compared to students in other countries, a relatively high proportion of New Zealand Year 5 students reported experiencing negative behaviours from other students at least monthly. A higher proportion of boys than girls experienced these behaviours but no particular ethnic grouping experienced these negative behaviours more than would be expected based on their proportion of the population.
  • Teachers of Year 5 students indicated that there were several factors that presented at least some limitations to their teaching of mathematics, particularly having students with a lack of prerequisite knowledge or skills.
  • Compared with most other countries, more New Zealand teachers thought that students suffering from not enough sleep were a hindrance to their teaching.
  • More than half of the TIMSS Year 5 students had teachers who perceived various issues were at least a minor problem in their current school, particularly teachers having too many teaching hours or inadequate workspace. New Zealand teachers were relatively positive about their working conditions compared to most other TIMSS countries.
  • Principals were asked to consider a list of resources and indicate if a lack of each resource had an impact on instruction. A lack of computers for instruction was the resource that most affected instruction. The average number of computers available to Year 5 students had risen since the previous cycle however. Around a quarter of students also had principals who indicated that the lack of technologically competent staff, computer software for mathematics instruction, and library materials relevant to mathematics instruction also limited instructional capability by some or a lot.
  • According to principals’ estimates of the numeracy abilities of students when they began school, mathematics achievement at Year 5 was higher in schools where the cohort were more mathematically able when they began school. In general, the higher decile schools were more likely to report higher proportions of able students in their school intake.

School leadership

  • Principals of New Zealand schools with Year 5 students in them were more likely than the international average to report spending a lot of time on promoting and developing educational goals, and on monitoring student progress.
    On average, New Zealand principals reported spending less time than their international counterparts on addressing student behaviour issues.

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